Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
Our Gospel reading from Matthew 16:13-20 confronts us with a Christian understanding of Jesus. Who is he? He is not, as many of us have heard in public media intended to mock him, a mostly fictitious person who was severely mentally disturbed, gathered a band of followers to feed into his power play, and then took off with one of them to live in a secret marriage incognito. No, what is Jesus like? Peter, speaking for the others also, recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. He is the one who comes to rescue Israel from sin and captivity. He is the Son of God.
This runs counter to our world’s expectations. While a secular culture would want to accept Jesus as, at best, some sort of a good teacher, maybe someone who could do some miracles, and certainly someone who taught peace and kindness, the Gospels recognize him as God the Son, the one who is the only hope for life in this age and in eternity.
Our Gospel passage also brings up some claims. We do well to consider their relative merits. If, in fact, Jesus is what our world would expect him to be, he is radically self-contradictory. We can’t count on the accounts which have come to us in Scripture being accurate, because we need to pick and choose among the claims. We have to treat the New Testament differently from any other document dating from its period. We have to assume that the portions which appear to be literal and historical narrative are to be interpreted as allegory. We have to assume that some of the allegorical passages are to be taken literally. We cannot be guided by our normal sense of reality, as we are in reading any other piece of literature. That is, if we want to accept Jesus as what our world expects him to be.
On the other hand, if we read the New Testament as a normal human would read it, we are given a very different Jesus. This is a Jesus who, though quite human, also is divine. He is the son of God and the son of Man. He lives as a man and dies as a man. He does miracles by the power of God. People are genuinely surprised at his miracles, because they know miracles don’t normally happen. He is put to death and rises from the dead, is seen by many people, and ascends to heaven. It was not in the best human interests of his followers to proclaim this. It brought their exile from any good society. It brought execution for many of them. Yet Jesus says here that the confession of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, is the rock on which He will build his Church. This, also, is what we can see happening in history. It has been the message of Jesus and his redemption which has anchored and guided Western Civilization through generations. It is the Gospel which has motivated people to care for the poor and needy, to provide hospitals, to investigate our highly complex world, to form schools, to explore new lands and try to bring comfort to strangers.
Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, is the one who will build his Church. It’s a good thing he will do it. We’d just mess it up somehow. Let’s watch what He does.
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